PHILADELPHIA -- No disrespect to the players that the Phillies acquired this offseason, even the recently acquiredJ.T. Realmuto, but Phillies fans have had their hearts and minds fixated on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado for the past three or four years.
They want to see one of these guys in a Phillies uniform this spring. They want one of them to turn an encouraging offseason into an exhilarating one.
If it happens -- expectations remain that the Phillies will sign one of the two superstars -- it will be the most excited Phillies fans have been since Spring Training 2011, when the organization assembled the rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Of course, that team already had the buzz and momentum of four consecutive National League East titles, two NL pennants and one World Series from the previous four years. These Phillies are looking for their first winning season since 2011.
Phillies fans overwhelmingly prefer Harper over Machado, and there is more than just anecdotal evidence (i.e. Twitter polls and social media feedback) to support that. Almost two weeks ago, Phillies fans awoke to bogus reports that Harper had agreed to terms with the Phillies, pending a physical. No agreement had been reached.
But the phony reports did not stop winning-starved Phillies fans from calling the Phillies' ticket office to buy partial-season ticket plans that morning. Yes, just the idea that Harper had agreed to terms with the Phillies had fans pulling credit cards out of their wallets.
Harper is a superstar in an entertainment business. Oh, he can play, too. He is a left-handed-hitting slugger and former National League Most Valuable Player. He would be big, both on and off the field for the Phillies.
Fan fervor for Machado is more restrained. One theory is that Phillies fans have not seen enough of Machado over the years to really know how good he is.
"He's really talented and really good and he makes everything look fairly easy," Chase Utley said during the National League Championship Series in October.
But Machado hurt himself in the NLCS when he made his "Johnny Hustle" comments and kicked Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar in the leg. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal wrote last week that the Dodgers "became less enamored of him once they got to know him." But the Phillies believe that any disappointment from fans hoping for Harper would be long gone by July, at which point Machado will have shown them why he is regarded as one of the game's greatest players at one of the game's premium positions.
It is why the Phillies' front office probably still might prefer Machado over Harper, despite Harper's star power.
"Whatever happens in the offseason is going to be forgotten on May 15, and the only thing that is going to matter is wins and losses," Phillies president Andy MacPhail said in December. "You can have a great offseason, but if the wins and losses aren't there in May, you're in trouble. You can have what's not perceived to be an exciting offseason, but if the wins and losses are there in May, you're in good shape. That's what we have to keep in mind."
This is true. In May, nobody will be talking about the teams that had the most exciting offseasons. That buzz will be long gone and the standings will be real. If the Phillies win with Harper or Machado (or -- gulp -- neither), fans will come to Citizens Bank Park. But if the Phillies do not sign Harper or Machado and lose, well, fans will be screaming, "We told you so!" from their homes throughout the Delaware Valley.
It remains unlikely that the Phillies come away empty-handed. If it is Harper or if it is Machado, it will be the biggest Phillies story since The Rotation assembled for the first time at a press conference in Clearwater, Fla., in February 2011.